women

When Kilojoules Count

Once you've entered this negative zone, Phillips and Klipin agree, some of these toxic feelings may seep into your relationship. It's how your partner deals with them - and with the issue of your appearance itself - that counts.

Some men seem genuinely not to care. Michael, the boyfriend of KwaZulu-Natal journalist Tracey*, is one of them. "He's naturally skinny, while I have to work hard to remain a size 14, which I've been since I was 20. Although we've done a tour of a gym together, he's generally more likely to say something like, 'that woman could use an extra donut', and it's very encouraging.

Secretly, I think he likes the idea of well-fed country maidens," she laughs. At the other extreme are those men who view their wives as a reflection of themselves: a "trophy". These men are likely to react with scorn to any negative change in her appearance. "It's important to remember that such men are reacting from a place of their own insecurities and low self-esteem," Phillips notes. But even a mild response can cut to the quick. "A friend's comments about our appearance won't have nearly as much impact as a partner's, because of the sexual dynamic between men and women," Phillips explains. Your partner obviously chose you because he was attracted to you at some level, so it can be devastating to learn that some of that attraction has dissipated.

"Women are fundamentally vulnerable in this area. We thrive on feeling adored, feeling pretty," Phillips points out. "Should a man tell you that he no longer feels that way, it's easy to feel that nothing can be done to restore your appeal. You can buy the sexiest lingerie and try the most daring acts, but if it's you he is no longer attracted to, what can you do to change the situation?"

That's why a derogatory comment about your appearance is so much more hurtful than a criticism of your behavior; you can always change how you respond to a situation next time, but it's almost impossible to alter your looks. Besides, even if you do lose weight as a result of such a conversation, it's almost certain to leave a breach; if he found you unattractive once, what's to say it won't happen again — especially if you regain those kilos? "It's about a loss of trust," Phillips adds.

Such a comment will almost certainly affect the relationship. It would take an exceptionally strong woman to shrug off the sentiment and start implementing a different regime. Someone who is already feeling bad about herself is more likely to withdraw even further, leaving the relationship at a stalemate.

The Kind Cure

Description: Weight MATTERS

What if the shoe is on the other foot, and it's your partner who has, over time, let his six-pack subside? Again, compassion is the key. "Any criticism in this area is bound to cause damage, especially since it's likely that there has already been a degree of self-flagellation," Phillips says.

It's important to note that your partner's disinterest in his appearance has little to do with you. It's easy to jump to conclusions, such as: "If he really cared about me, he would take care of himself because he would want to impress me", which can quickly turn into, "He doesn't try to look attractive anymore, so he's no longer attracted to me".

Imagine yourself in the same situation; if you're reaching for another brownie after a stressful day at the office, it's not because you're trying to spite someone. It's because you feel overwhelmed, and in that moment, the chocolate will help to soothe you.

But, it's equally important to remember that just because you want your partner to change, it doesn't mean that he will, Klipin adds. "We very seldom do things unless we are intrinsically motivated to do so."

So, if nagging won't work and criticism will only hurt, what is the best way to broach the topic? For a man, it helps to show his concern for his wife's happiness, Phillips says. "He might start the conversation by asking if everything is alright, because you are not looking happy. This provides a platform for you to mention if anything is on your mind, and to bring any issues to his attention. From there, you could jointly plot a solution, such as taking up an exercise - like tennis or jogging - together."

Keeping It Off

From a medical perspective, Bruk says that "even though some weight gain is normal as you age, it is not inevitable". Keep the kilos off by following a regular exercise programme that includes strength training, as this will help to prevent - or at least slow - muscle loss.

You'll need to keep an eye on your diet, too. Even if chips and pies were a staple during your twenties and you had no saddle-bags to show for it, you'll need to be more cautious as you get older, especially when it comes to the amount of sugar you consume. But that's not to say that the occasional glass of wine or piece of cake is entirely taboo.

"It's also important to consume a lot of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, as they help to slow the aging process, as well as lean protein like lean meat, chicken breasts, fish, beans, chickpeas and eggs," Bruk advises. Also on your list should be omega-3 fatty acids (found in fatty fish, walnuts and flaxseeds) and low-GI carbohydrates, such as seed bread, bran flakes and brown rice.

Bruk also warns that, if you find yourself putting on weight rapidly - something that hasn't happened in the past - it's a good idea to consult your doctor, and possibly a dietician.

No one said you have to be a supermodel, but when you promise to love someone in sickness and in health, it's your responsibility to strive for the latter.

Love And Marriage

A study of more than 6 000 Australian women between the ages of 18 and 23, over a 10-year period, revealed that women (even those who had never had children) are prone to gaining weight once they are in a long-term relationship. The survey asked questions regarding weight, height, age, physical activity, alcohol consumption, medications used, smoking history, education and health.

The results revealed that women without children, or a partner, put on an average of 5kg. Women in a committed relationship, but no children, gained on average 7kg, while married women with children gained on average 9kg over a 10-year period. The study concluded that there does seem to be a correlation between being in a long-term relationship and a higher weight-gain for women. This seems to be due to behavioral changes that are adopted by women in long-term relationships, rather than metabolic changes.

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